The Customer Evaluation Process

What you’ll learn to do: explain the key components of the customer evaluation process

Customers are constantly deciding what to buy and where to buy it. In order to retain customers, businesses must ensure their customers are satisfied. But just what does it mean to have a satisfied customer? And how can a business retain customers in our ever-changing market place?

Learning Outcomes

  • Define customer perception and customer expectation
  • Describe the main characteristics that affect service quality perceptions
  • Explain the role of customer expectations in determining the value of service perceived

Perception vs. Expectation

A person’s perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and values can substantially influence his or her experience and involvement with products.

Perception

Perception can have various meanings but in marketing, it is often described as a process by which a consumer identifies, organizes, and interprets information to create meaning. A consumer will selectively perceive what they will ultimately classify as their needs and wants.

a 3d rectangular box and a rubin vase in black and white

Necker Cube and Rubin Vase: These are two optical illusions that illustrate how perception may differ from reality. On the left, we see a cube when in fact it is a flat image on our screen. On the right, the vase actually resembles two faces looking at each other.

Perception is a psychological variable involved in the purchase decision process that is known to influence consumer behavior. Other variables included in this consumer process include: motivation, learning, attitude, personality, and lifestyle. All of these concepts are crucial in interpreting the consumer buying process and can also help guide marketing efforts.

Selective Perception is the process by which individuals perceive what they want to in media messages and disregard the rest.

Seymor Smith, a prominent advertising researcher, found evidence for selective perception in advertising research in the early 1960s, and he defined it to be “a procedure by which people let in, or screen out, advertising material they have an opportunity to see or hear. They do so because of their attitudes, beliefs, usage preferences and habits, conditioning, etc.” People who like, buy, or are considering buying a brand are more likely to notice advertising than are those who are neutral toward the brand. This fact has repercussions within the field of advertising research because any post-advertising analysis that examines the differences in attitudes or buying behavior among those aware versus those unaware of advertising is flawed unless pre-existing differences are controlled for.

Selective perceptions is categorized under two types: a low level of perception, known as perceptual vigilance, and a higher level of perception, known as perceptual defense.

Customer Experience

In general, four main factors influence a consumers’s experience, involvement, and satisfaction with a product:

  • Personal: A person’s perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and values can substantially influence his or her experience and involvement with products. For example, certain cultures highly discourage women from exposing some of their body parts as part of their religious beliefs, which inevitably affects their consumption of clothing. Other examples of cultural influences include language, myths, customs, rituals, and laws. Consumers tend to be more involved with products that they believe can fill their own needs, which in turn are regarded as holding importance and relevance in their lives. Personal or individual factors can also serve as strong influences, including gender, age, income level or social class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
  • Object: The degree of information that a consumers have about a product, including how well they can distinguish its characteristics, can also effect their experience, involvement, and satisfaction. Typically, the higher a consumer’s product knowledge, the more involved with it he or she will be. Deeper knowledge about a product also translates into higher involvement because the consumer perceives it as more important, especially if some of that knowledge pertains to characteristics that hold personal meaning.
  • Situational: Products that can easily conform to and enrich a consumer’s lifestyle tend to be consumed with more frequency and involvement. For example, a busy working mother might rely heavily on her smart phone to keep her organized and effective in an effortless manner.
  • Social: Social influence can deeply affect consumer behavior, especially as related to the products they consider and consume. A consumer’s social network has a strong influence on the products he or she uses, since individuals tend to rely on the opinions and advice of friends and family. Other social influences can include opinion leaders and reference groups.

Consumer Involvement

Consumer involvement tends to vary dramatically depending on the type of product and its relationship to the consumer. In general, consumer involvement tends to be higher for products that are very expensive (e.g., a home, a car) or are considered highly significant in the consumer’s life (e.g., a newborn baby product).

Marketing strategy should take into account the level of involvement that a consumer has with a specific product, as this also dictates the type of information that the consumer needs to process in order to make a purchase decision.

The following levels of information processing are required, which can help dictate the marketing approach that should be used:

  • Low-Involvement purchases tend to be made by habitual decisions (e.g., dish washing liquid, toothbrush). These require minimal information processing.
  • Moderate-Involvement purchases tend to be made by simple decisions (e.g., orange juice, snacks). These often may require some evaluation of alternatives.
  • High-Involvement purchases tend to be made by lengthy or more involved decisions (e.g., a car or a house). These are usually considered highly important to consumers and require extensive information processing.

Print advertising is considered high-involvement because newspapers and magazines provide information that can be processed clearly and can help shape attitudes and influence decisions. Television advertising is considered low-involvement because it presents information that is considered passive.

The four main types of buying behavior in consumer marketing depend on the level of consumer involvement:

High involvement & significant differences between brands (complex buying behavior):

  • Example: Houses, kitchen renovation
  • One-time sale
  • Consumers need evaluation and pre-sale learning
  • Selling activities are key

Low involvement & significant differences between brands (variety-seeking buying behavior):

  • Example: Retail food stuff
  • Consumers have added buying triggers
  • Consumers want free samples, special deals

High involvement & few differences between brands (dissonance-reducing buying behavior):

  • Example: Consumer electronics, top-line sport equipment
  • Decision making is difficult both pre- and post-purchase

Low involvement & few differences between brands (habitual buying behavior):

  • Example: Food, personal care products
  • Brand familiarity and promotion with convenience is key
  • Consumers look for price/sales promotions

practice questions

Service Quality Perceptions

Post-Purchase Behavior

Post-purchase behavior is when the customer assesses whether he is satisfied or dissatisfied with a purchase.

Post-purchase behavior is the final stage in the consumer decision process when the customer assesses whether he is satisfied or dissatisfied with a purchase. How the customer feels about a purchase will significantly influence whether he will purchase the product again or consider other products within the brand repertoire. A customer will also be able to influence the purchase decision of others because he will likely feel compelled to share his feelings about the purchase.

Cognitive dissonance, another form of buyer’s remorse, is common at this stage. This is when the customer may experience feelings of post-purchase psychological tension or anxiety. For example, the customer might feel compelled to question whether he has made the right decision. They may also be exposed to advertising for a competitive product or brand which could put into question the product that they have chosen. A customer may also have a change of heart and decide that he no longer has a need for this particular product.

Some companies now opt to engage their consumers with post-purchase communications in an effort to influence their feelings about their purchase and future purchases. Offering money back guarantees also serve to extend and enrich post-purchase communications between the company and its consumers. Other examples include VIP invitations to become part of a club or special and select group of consumers who buy a particular product. Another example is when customers are asked for their contact information at the point of purchase so they can be targeted later with a follow-up call that surveys the product’s performance and consumer satisfaction. This approach could help influence or alleviate feelings of cognitive dissonance or “buyer’s remorse” following a product purchase.

Digital Surveys

Digital surveys, also referred to as online questionnaires, are research tools that ask consumers questions in a virtual environment. These surveys are a type of Online Research Method (ORM). Many of these ORMs are related to older research methodologies that have been re-invented and re-imagined to work with new technologies and the on-the-go conditions of a digital environment.

With the increasing use of the Internet, online questionnaires have become a popular way of collecting information. However, the online research field remains relatively new and continues to evolve. With the growth of social media, new levels of complexity and opportunity have been created for using digital surveys to conduct market research.

Advantages of Digital Surveys

  • The administrator has greater flexibility in displaying questions. Questions can be displayed with check boxes, pull down menus, pop up menus, help screens, or submenus.
  • An online forum allows responses to be received from more subjects and from anywhere in the world.
  • This method is also cheaper to use, because there are fewer costs incurred from buying paper, printing materials or paying postage.
  • Since data is collected into a central database, the time for analysis is substantially reduced.
  • It is easier to correct errors on an online questionnaire, since the administrator does not have to reprint and redistribute all the questionnaires.

Disadvantages of Digital Surveys

  • Not everyone has access to the Internet, so the response rate is limited.
  • Many people are not receptive to completing questionnaires online.
  • Studies indicate that the demographic that responds to online questionnaire invitations are generally younger people.

practice questions

Customer Expectations

Successful businesses work proactively to obtain information from their customers to ensure they are meeting their needs.

Customer Feedback

Service quality generally refers to a customer’s comparison of service expectations as it relates to a company’s performance. A business with a high level of service quality is likely capable of meeting customer needs while also remaining economically competitive in their respective industry. Successful businesses who remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace work proactively to obtain information from their current or potential customer base so they can ensure they are meeting their needs.

No amount of discussing with professionals, friends, or colleagues will ever replace the information that a company can receive from a real customer.

The following questions are crucial when obtaining customer feedback:

  • What does the customer like?
  • What do they dislike?
  • How can things be improved?
  • Are their needs and expectations being met?
  • How much will they pay for something?
  • Is convenience important?
  • Should items be packaged together?
  • Is after-sales service critical?

Customer feedback can be collected by:

  • Asking consumers directly: This tactic comes across particularly effective during the point-of-purchase at a retail store because consumers are being probed on their experiences while they are shopping.
  • Questionnaires: Distribute one-page questionnaires that ask some key questions and encourage customers to fill them out. These can be mailed out as pre-paid postcards or emailed to consumers who give their permission to be contacted.
  • Focus groups: This involves gathering a number of customers, sitting them down, and discussing a range of issues relevant to a company’s business. The advantage of using this method over a questionnaire is that it will yield more detailed information and feedback, rather than “tick the box” style responses from a questionnaire. In-person focus groups and one-on-one interviews are helpful tools that provide explanation of product or consumer-related issues because you are going to the main source directly.
  • Telephone: Some surveys can be conducted via phone. These yield a more private conversation exchange between the customer and the service provider.
  • Virtual online communities or private consumer panels: Technology has made it increasingly easier for companies to obtain feedback from their customers. With the explosion of technology in the marketplace and the consumer’s everyday life, many companies are now building their own proprietary online panels of consumers which give them unencumbered access to their target market on an ongoing basis. In exchange for their honest opinions and feedback, customers are incentivized for their time. Community blogs and forums also enable customers to provide detailed explanations of both negative as well as positive experiences with a company.

Instant feedback

Recently, many organizations have implemented feedback loops that allow them to capture feedback at the point of experience. For example, National Express, one of the UK’s leading travel companies, has invited passengers to send text messages while riding the bus. This has been shown to be useful, as it allows companies to improve their customer service before the customer defects, thus making it far more likely that the customer will return next time.

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Problem Resolution Through Excellent Customer Service

Ultimately, the best method of resolving simple problems – often before they arise – is through the delivery of excellent customer service. By ensuring a close relationship with the customer, knowing their wants and needs and avoiding any misunderstandings, a company is able to ensure that problems of a non-technical nature are minimized, often before they even arise. Any problems that do arise can be resolved with an attentive approach to the customer, ensuring that all will be done to solve the problem as soon as possible. When the customer knows that they are valued in such a way, they tend to be much more forgiving and patient with the company.

Customer Support

Customer support is a range of customer services to assist customers in making cost effective and correct use of a product. It includes assistance in planning, installation, training, troubleshooting, maintenance, upgrading, and disposal of a product. Through effective and attentive customer support, any potential problems that the customer has with a product or service can be resolved quickly and cleanly.

Automation

Customer support automation involves the building of a knowledge base of known issues and their resolutions to support incidents with delivery mechanisms, often by expert systems. A service automation platform includes a suite of support solutions including proactive support, assisted support, and self support. Automation of service organizations aim to achieve, for example, lower mean time to repair (MTTR). With automated support, service organizations can make their services available to their customers 24 hours a day and seven days a week, by monitoring alarms, identifying problems at an early stage, and resolving issues before they become problems.

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Customer Support: AT&T Mobility provides technical support for some of its mobile phones through device support centers.

Automated assisted support enables remote access to sites that need instant problem solving. By automating the collection of information of devices and applications coexisting with the supported application, problems can be quickly detected and fixed.Automated self support, automates the self support process, freeing users from self-help diagnostics and troubleshooting from online libraries or knowledge bases. Support automation solutions can be integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems and network management systems (NMS). They can also provide full customer reports to management by tallying problems and incidents that were solved mechanically to ensure compliance with industry regulations.

Tech Support

Tech support refers to a range of services by which companies provide assistance to users of technology products such as mobile phones, televisions, computers, software products, or other electronic or mechanical goods. In general, technical support services attempt to help the user solve specific problems with a product—rather than providing training, customization, or other support services. Most companies offer technical support for the products they sell, generally for free. Others provide a fee for technical support or a fee for premium support services (no waiting in line or talking to a machine, for example).